I used to work with a trainer who would tell his clients that they ought to leave their jobs if their careers didn’t allow them to live healthy lifestyles. I always thought this was ridiculous, impractical advice, but I’ve been wondering lately if I was too dismissive of this trainer’s logic.
Modern American life is replete with responsibilities, financial pressure, and seemingly unrelenting time-consuming demands. So I mostly try to offer advice that allows people to make the best of a suboptimal situation. Lately I’ve been wondering if this practicality actually is feeding into an unhealthy approach to life by justifying it in a way. “Listen, I understand that you have two kids, a mortgage, and college to save for, so I understand if you don’t have the time to cook three meals a day, every day.” That’s probably a version of something I’ve said before.
The problem with my approach, however, is that I’m not sensing that most of us are actually happy with the way we’re living. The parents I talk to say that they’re overwhelmed, and people seem to feel less in control as they rise through the corporate/government/organizational ranks. We get more, in a sense, and then we’re afraid of losing what we just earned.
When I ask people how they would like to be living, almost invariably they tell me they would like to be spending more time with their children, they would like to be exercising more, and they would like to have more time to cook. The conventional wisdom suggests that people are just idiots and that’s why they eat the way they do and avoid exercise. But I think what’s happened is we’ve bought a narrative about what our lives–and by extension our houses, cars, and clothes are supposed to look like. In short, I wonder how much our unbridled consumerism is linked to our declining wellness.
By investing in stuff instead of experiences and our health, we’re voting for stuff in a sense with our dollars. Let’s take cable, for instance.
“According to estimates from the NPD Group, this year the average subscription pay-TV customer will pay an astonishing $123 per month for pay-TV. NPD estimated that same figure was $86 in 2011, which indicates an increase of 9.4% annually between 2011 and 2015.” —Motley Fool, February 2015
$123 a month seems high, but that’s not the only cost associated with that cable bill. There’s also the lost time with family, with books, with friends, with creativity, with love, with sex, with thinking, with doing, with our communities. $123 a month is almost $1500 a year. Once we start to appreciate how much money we’re essentially throwing away, then the choice to stay at that miserable, life-sucking job seems less like a sacrifice necessitated by saving for college and more like a silly choice to watch “Say Yes to the Dress” instead of spending time with our spouses.
I pick on cable television a lot, but there are other examples. We eat out at mostly terrible restaurants and fast food joints. We buy two gigantic cars instead of trying to make due with one. We even buy gigantic homes that are expensive to heat and maintain.
Lest anyone think I have some sort of superiority complex, I can assure you I’m guilty of wasting money on stupid things too. When we first moved back to Dayton I was a baby about how the water tasted. So I convinced myself that we “needed” to have water delivered every month. Several weeks ago we eliminated that water delivery service from our ledger, bought a filtered container at the grocery, and now we’re saving a lot of money as a result. (Bonus points too for eliminating the wasted energy used to ship water to me on a truck instead of turning a faucet.)
I’m not telling you to quit your job. I am asking you to think about where your money is going. Could you make less money but live closer to your home, thus buying you valuable time with your family? Is there a walkable neighborhood to which you could move where you wouldn’t need multiple cars? If you took a hard look at things like cable service, could you reduce the amount of monthly costs?
When we think about our choices related to fitness and health, general we focus on nutrition and exercise. But I’m here to tell you that where and how you choose to spend your money is as much a wellness decision as what you’re having for dinner tonight.
So don’t quit your job…
…but think about how your life might be different in another one.